Fuchsia is a genus of flowering plants that consists mostly of shrubs or small trees. The first, Fuchsia triphylla, was discovered on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic and Haiti) about 1696–1697 by the French Minim monk and botanist, Charles Plumier during his third expedition to the Greater Antilles. He named the new genus after the renowned German botanist Leonhart Fuchs (1501–1566).
There are currently almost 110 recognized species of Fuchsia. The vast majority are native to South America, but with a few occurring north through Central America to Mexico, and also several from New Zealand to Tahiti. One species, F. magellanica, extends as far as the southern tip of South America, occurring on Tierra del Fuego in the cool temperate zone, but the majority are tropical or subtropical. Most fuchsias are shrubs from 0.2–4 m (8 in–13 ft 1 in) tall, but one New Zealand species, the kōtukutuku (F. excorticata), is unusual in the genus in being a tree, growing up to 12–15 metres (39–49 ft) tall.
Fuchsia leaves are opposite or in whorls of 3–5, simple lanceolate and usually have serrated margins (entire in some species), 1–25 cm long, and can be either deciduous or evergreen, depending on the species. The flowers are very decorative; they have a pendulous “teardrop” shape and are displayed in profusion throughout the summer and autumn, and all year in tropical species. They have four long, slender sepals and four shorter, broader petals; in many species the sepals are bright red and the petals purple (colours that attract the hummingbirds that pollinate them), but the colours can vary from white to dark red, purple-blue, and orange. A few have yellowish tones. The ovary is inferior and the fruit is a small (5–25 mm) dark reddish green, deep red, or deep purple berry, containing numerous very small seeds.
The fruit of all fuchsia species and cultivars is edible, with the berry of F. splendens reportedly among the best-tasting. Its flavor is reminiscent of citrus and pepper, and it can be made into jam. The fruits of some other fuchsias are flavorless or leave a bad aftertaste.
Photos: Celeste Mookherjee